After ten months of silence, House of Cards star Robin Wright finally spoke up about her disgraced co-star Kevin Spacey. Spacey was abruptly fired from the series in October after multiple accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Both colleagues from years past and young men who worked with him on House of Cards say Spacey harassed and/or assaulted them.
Netflix decided to go through with production of Season Six, which was already planned as the final season before the scandal broke. In the series, Spacey plays Frank Underwood, a Washington insider who uses Machiavellian tactics to become president. At the end of the fifth season, Underwood's wife, Claire, played by Wright, has replaced him as president, unintentionally creating the perfect setup for a final season in which she stars and he is absent.
Wright had refused to publicly discuss Spacey's sexual misconduct, but with Season Six going live on Netflix this fall, she finally sat down with Today's Savannah Guthrie and answered some questions about her former co-star. Wright preserved Hollywood's never-badmouth-a-colleague etiquette, simply saying she and Spacey never socialized outside work, and that she didn't know the man, as opposed to the actor. She also said she was shocked and saddened, as were the rest of the series' cast and crew, when the allegations came out. That might have been stretching the truth a bit since several of the people who worked on the show describe Spacey touching the men around him and even putting his hand on their crotches or down their pants in public.
Was Wright harassed? "Of course!"
But whatever she may have seen or not seen on the House of Cards set, Wright is quite familiar with Hollywood's sexual harassment problem. When asked if she's ever been a victim herself she answers, "Of course! Who hasn't?" And then, in a few simple words, she explains exactly why sexual harassment is such a potent force, in Hollywood, in startups and corporations, and everywhere else.
"This is a bigger, broader issue," she continues. "I don't care who you are, it's about power, and once you overpower someone that person then becomes vulnerable."
Wright is exactly right, and her comments show why sexual harassment is so dangerous, and why, as she told Guthrie, there needs to be a continuing conversation and a paradigm shift around it. The young men Spacey harassed and in some cases assaulted all asked for anonymity. None of them have pressed charges or initiated lawsuits and all seem to fear the same thing: That speaking out publicly against their mistreatment would mostly wind up harming their careers. As with every victim, trying to deal with harassment hampered their ability to do their jobs--for instance one man who complained to his boss about being sexually assaulted was given the common instruction to never be alone with Spacey. People working under constant threat of assault, and who must carefully avoid the most powerful and high-profile colleagues, are at a distinct disadvantage in a competitive workplace. Since most harassers are men and, Spacey's actions notwithstanding, most victims are women, sexual harassment helps to maintain gender discrepancies in the workplace, along with all the other damage it causes.
Many victims can speak truthfully about it only once they've achieved their own power, as Wright has. In fact, the sexual harassment scandal at Uber--which opened the floodgates for all the accusations that came afterward--only happened because engineer Susan Fowler had already moved on from that job, published a bestselling technical book, and became powerful in her own right. It was only then that she published the blog post that started it all.
This is one reason we need the #MeToo movement more than ever, and need victims of harassment and assault to continue speaking out. Until the paradigm shift Wright called for takes place and the widespread problem of sexual harassment is addressed, we will never have the egalitarian workplaces some of us dream of. A world in which some employees, or performers, or startup founders have to spend time and emotional energy worrying about how they may be harassed and by whom is a world in which we'll never be able to change the status quo.